The Tarkin Doctrine was the imperial policy that lead to the creation of the Death Star in Star Wars. Tarkin, the highest-ranking member of the Empire, was charged with subjugating an entire galaxy under its iron grip. Massive direct-military control of an entire galaxy would be decades away from fruition so a strategy was needed in the meantime. Tarkin believed that the fear of force was more powerful than force itself: “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.” Thus, the Death Star would only have to use force to blow up a planet once (Alderaan) to cause the rest of the galaxy to fall in line out of fear.
Stay with me, but this “fear of force” philosophy is alive and well in the church today as it struggles with what to do with its power in a shifting religious landscape.
There are varied degrees of power in mandating changes in the local churches in a denominational system. The more congregational, the more power is at the local church level. The more connectional, the more power is placed at the meta-church level. For example, bishops assign pastors in a connectional system whereas churches choose pastors in a congregational system.
To the point, I’m struck by how much of the call for reform in the UMC revolve around utilizing fear and consequences in our connectional system.
In the Called to Action report, while statistics and indicators of decline evoke fear and uncertainty, they are realities we have to deal with. I’m not talking about calls for episcopal censure or elimination of guaranteed appointments. While those involve fear, their express purpose is not to evoke fear but accountability.
But fear of reciprocity is celebrated and deployed as a strategy to effect change. For instance, when talking about moving funding from effective programs
Develop and implement comprehensive strategic initiatives that identify and then redeploy underperforming assets (real estate, invested reserves) and combine with allocations of annual revenue in order to invest in the places demonstrating and fostering vitality
CTA report, 26
This is what I’ve called “No Church Left Behind” (ala No Child Left Behind) where funds from under-performing areas are taken away and given to successful areas. As the CTA report says multiple times it is good that the church “celebrates success” but the flipside is that “abandons failure.” In other words, while it makes fiscal sense to redeploy assets, it abandons entire mission fields and programs and people instead of securing more funding to make programs more effective.
While certainly there are programs that need to be abandoned, ask any teacher or principal or superintendent if fear is a motivating factor in the school systems these days and you’ll understand why I see fear as a motivating factor in this program reshuffling in the UMC. And I worry about secular values of sheerly objective assessments creeping their way into subjective values of the Church. Like Jesus in Mark 14 celebrating the woman who “wasted” a bottle of perfume on his feet while others criticized the waste of money, we also ought to be reflective when our policies value objective criteria rather than extravagant love.
But even more disturbing is when they are talking about measures such as revoking health insurance of clergy. The recent Sustainability Advisory Group’s report (which provided material support for the CTA report) blatantly celebrates the role of fear. Here they are talking about sharing “best practices” across conference boundaries:
Ideas range from the simple,cost effective use of OCR (optical character/check readers) for conference treasurers, to strict conference policies requiring district funds to cover the shortfall in payments for all clergy benefits, to policies that terminate health benefits if a church does not pay the premiums. While this latter policy may seem extreme, experience has shown that this only happens once, after which conference finances improve significantly.
SAG report, 16
In keeping with the theme of this post, a sacrifice of Rev. Alderaan will bring the rest of the local churches in line. Once people hear about another clergy’s termination of benefits, they will change their habits as well. The Tarkin Doctrine in effect.
In closing, there is a difference between being fearful of the future of the church (which many faithful people including me are) and adopting strategies that utilize fear. A twitter comment by Taylor Burton-Edwards today seems to ask a similar question that I am asking:
Are churches and denominations presenting negative emotional motivators to deal with complex issues?
How can we be the Body of Christ when we encourage nervous sweat rather than soaring hearts?